Bread – Images

February 25, 2015


Readings for Wednesday, February 25, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 9:13-21; Heb. 3:12-19; John 2:23-3:15; Psalms 49,53,119:49-72

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In today’s reading from Scripture, we have three images of our relationship to God – open rebellion, silent or secret rebellion, and submission.

In the open rebellion image, Moses has gone to the mountain to visit with God and receive the law. Upon his return down the mountain, he sees Israel worshiping the golden calf they have made with their hands. This is open rebellion against God because it is plain for all to see. Who cannot remember Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments,” when Moses flung the Ten Commandments into the midst of the golden calf, destroying it with the fire of the wrath of God? Who cannot remember from the same movie the demonstrations of sin and lust surrounding the worship of the golden calf.

What is remarkable about this scene and in fact the real reading from today in Deuteronomy is that God did not destroy these people, His people, but He did destroy their idols and reassert Himself as God. How many times have we been in open rebellion against God, raising up idols of our own making, and claiming allegiance to the world rather than to God, shaking our fist in His face, and laughing. God does not laugh at this, but neither does He destroy us. Instead, while we were still hostile to Him, He died for us so that whoever is empowered by Him to believe in Him should have eternal life and have it abundantly.

Then there are those in silent or secret rebellion. Their rebellion may not be as obvious, because they may have all the outward appearances of righteousness without the inner reality. They may claim to know Christ but then act as if they only know themselves. Our reading from Hebrews today presents the image of these people, in secret rebellion, as follows – “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God…For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end…For who were those who heard and yet rebelled?…So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.” Heb. 3:12-19

It is not that we can “un-ring the bell” of salvation if we have been saved. However, just like the chosen people, Israel, turned away from God toward the golden calf, we too can turn away from our Savior and embrace the world, all the while maintaining an appearance of godliness. The writer of Hebrews does not warn us that secret rebellion may lead to losing our salvation; but he does warn us that secret rebellion may be evidence that we have not really shared in Christ. To quote the study notes to the ESV Study Bible, “This verse then provides a grave warning to everyone who claims to be saved – that is, to examine oneself carefully to be sure that one is in fact a genuine believer, because if there is no evidence of perseverance in faith and obedience, then there is real reason to doubt that such a person has ever been saved.”

Then there is the image of relationship to Christ described in our reading today from John, in which Jesus says to Nicodemus “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3

This is the image of transformation, taken from the state of sinfulness into which we are born and translated into citizenship in the kingdom of God by the mercy of God, the act of God, and the love of God. The transformed man, with a heart turned to flesh, is the submitted man, obedient to the Creator, the King, the Redeemer, the Savior, God. This man runs away from temptation and not toward it, toward God and not away from Him. This man may suffer as we understand the term, but he is victorious in a way which we only vaguely understand from our human perspective. He is neither in open nor silent rebellion; he is in submission. The polarity of his heart is not toward himself but toward God.

Three images of ourselves. The golden calf, the clothing of belief covering the heart of unbelief, the transformed heart of submission to God. Three paintings, full of characters. Which painting are you in?

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© 2015 GBF

Bread – Affluence

February 23, 2015


Readings for Monday, February 23, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 8:11-20; Heb.2:11-18; John 2:1-12; Psalms 41,44,52

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Affluence, wealth, stuff. I have heard a saying that anyone born in the United States has won the worldwide lottery. And to a great extent the saying is probably true. Even the poorest among us generally have drinkable water, regularly operating electricity, a place to stay, clothes, transportation and roads to drive on, telephones, television and food. There are many places in the world where many of these things either don’t exist on any regular basis or where they are reserved to the wealthiest of society.

We are wealthy and, because we are wealthy, there is a new argument which is coming up in criminal cases – the “affluenza” argument. This appeared in our own backdoor in Fort Worth this last year, when a teenager argued that he should not receive jail time for killing four people while he was driving when drunk because, to paraphrase the defense team, “he was brought up in an environment of considerable wealth and privilege, in which his parents did not place limits on his behavior, and he therefore did not know that his actions had consequences.” Using this argument, he avoided jail time.

Where are we when we can say with a straight face – “It is OK to be immoral because we are so wealthy that we no longer know what the word “immoral” means.” “It is OK to live by the base standards of our sinful nature, as a sacrifice of self on the altar of self, because we are so wealthy we don’t know any better.”

And, yet, before we react by saying, “No, we don’t think or act like this,” look around.

We have a warning in Scripture today about the disease of wealth, its corroding nature. The writer of Deuteronomy says:

“Take care lest you forget the Lord your God…, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart will be lifted up, and you forget the Lord you God, who brought you out of the…house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness…who fed you in the wilderness…Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth…” Deut. 8:11-18

Beware the wiles of wealth! Beware the pride which comes from looking around at nice cars, big houses, running water, air conditioning and heat, plentiful food, money in banks and safes. Beware, beware, beware!

In this season of Lent, it is appropriate I think that our meditation begin with this question – “Lord, how has my wealth blinded me to You and yours? How has my wealth kept me from loving You? How has my wealth kept me from loving my neighbor?” And then we need to meditate on this question – If the Lord reveals the nature of the impediment and how it is negatively affecting your walk with Christ and your fruit in the world, what are you willing to do to remove that impediment?

Can we who are wealthy really ever say that we will follow Jesus regardless of the cost? I know some people who have … but I also know many whose wealth is a snare and a heavy burden they willingly lift up upon their shoulders every day.

In Deuteronomy, does the Lord tell them to get rid of the wealth which the Lord Himself has bestowed upon them, the wealth which God has given them the power to obtain? No, He doesn’t. However, He does say that the great tendency of wealth is to cause us to forget what God has done for us, to forget that He is the source of all and is to be honored above all, and to follow after other idols of our choosing – generally idols designed to bring us more wealth.

Has affluenza so overcome us that we forget Who we were saved by and Who gives us the life and blessings we so enjoy?

A worthy question this Monday morning. Has affluenza overcome me and, if so, what damage has been done? Fortunately for us, there is no damage done which God cannot repair and He is mighty to save. The only real damage is the damage which is not recognized because we believe that we are blinded by our wealth and forget our God.

How has my wealth blinded me?

Let us begin with this simple test…At the very beginning of this Bread, there is a listing of Scripture from the Book of Common Prayer assigned to this day. Before you read Bread, did you read these Scriptures? Did you pull your hard copy or electronic Bible off its virtual wall and read what God has to say before you read what I have to say? If not, why not? Is it because you don’t have enough time … because you need to get to work so that you can make more wealth?

How has my wealth blinded me? My hunch is that the answer to the preceding simple test has already exposed the answer.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Standards

February 20, 2015


Readings for Friday, February 20, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Deut. 7:12-16; Titus 2:1-15; John 1:35-42; Psalms 31,35,95

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What standards shall we follow in our lives and why?

In our reading from Deuteronomy, God says “”And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that He swore to your fathers. He will love you, bless you, and multiply you…” Deut. 7:12-13

We call these standards the law. The judge of our obedience to these laws is God. Like all laws, there are penalties for disobedience. And as for God’s law, we have proven over and over again that absolute obedience to the entirety of the law cannot be achieved, if we are honest with ourselves. Unstated in this passage (but stated elsewhere) is that, if you obey the law, good things happen and if you don’t, bad things happen.

In Titus, Paul says “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness….that the word of God may not be reviled … so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us…so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” Titus 2:1-2,5,8,10.

We do not call these standards the law. Instead, we set them as high marks of living the Christian life. They are marks of underlying character, not following the rules but living the life.

With the law, disobedience brings death. With the standards, disobedience defames Christ.

With the law, God is our judge. With the standards, other people look at us and decide whether we are true ambassadors of Christ.

So, which standards do we follow? There are four choices: (1) God’s law, (2) God’s standards of behavior as good representatives of Jesus Christ, (3) man’s law, and (4) the world’s standards of behavior. In our legal system, there has historically been an attempt to unify the first three, so that man’s law is in alignment with God’s law and His standards of right behavior. The world’s standards of behavior are what, as Christians, we should avoid, because to follow them brings dishonor upon Christ. Unfortunately, as man-made laws begin to reflect more of the world’s standards of behavior and less of God’s, Christians will be required, more sharply than now, to decide whose standards and laws are to be obeyed.

The “why” part is trickier. One may be inclined to follow God’s law as the only way to assurance of salvation. However, we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, not by works. Therefore, slavish obedience to the law as a path to salvation is a sliding backwards and a refusal to embrace the freedom we have as Christians. However, the law is not to be rejected because it stands as God’s outline of actions we can take and avoid to live fruitful, Godly lives.

If we are Christians, then we may be inclined to follow Christ’s standards of Christian behavior. But why? The key here is that, as disciples of Christ, we are light in a dark world, salt in a sick world, ambassadors of a kingdom which our world needs to know about. To be effective salt, light, and agents we need to reflect, in all we do, Christ. As Paul says to Titus, the downside of not striving to God’s standards of character, of not demonstrating our new character as new lives in Christ, we bring dishonor to Christ, feed our opponents with ammunition, and fail to put on the armor of God. We build up Godly character with sound doctrine fully applied because we love Who we represent, because we are citizens of Christ’s realm, because know that it is our sins which killed Jesus and we do not want to add to His burden to the extent it is in our power to do so.

As Christians, what standards of behavior should we expect in other Christians?

But will we get compliments from others in the world for following Christ’s standards? No, we will not. If we don’t follow His standards, then we feed the enemy with points to criticize, but we can never expect the enemy to compliment.

If you want compliments from others, then follow the world’s standards, and you will get lots of them.

So, if you want to try to earn your salvation, follow God’s law. If you want to be salt and light in the world and not feed the enemy with points of criticism against Christ, follow Christ’s standards of behavior and build godly character in the process. If you want to earn the compliments of men, follow the world’s standards.

What standards shall we follow in our lives? The question really should be what standards do we follow in our lives? And the best question is what standards do I follow in my life?

A worthy question for this period of reflection called Lent preceding the celebration of the Lord’s resurrection.

What is your answer?

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Foundations

February 16, 2015


Readings for Monday, February 16, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 63:1-6; 1 Tim. 1:1-17; Mark 11:1-11; Psalm 89

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What is the foundation of our faith?

There is much more behind this question than necessarily meets the eye.

In today’s readings, we see at least six (6) different possibilities.

One foundation of our faith could be a desire to escape the wrath of God and the coming judgment. From our reading in Isaiah today comes this: “It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save … I have trodden the winepress alone…I trod them in My anger and trampled them in My wrath;…for the day of vengeance was in my heart…I trampled down the peoples in My anger; I made them drunk in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.” Isa. 63:1-6 Let us call this the “Avoidance Foundation.”

Another foundation of our faith could be our own works, our desire to obey God’s law, just as Paul did: “I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful…” 1 Tim. 1: 12 Let us call this the “Self Foundation.”

Another foundation of our faith could be that we were given mercy by God. Again from 1 Timothy: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God…But I received mercy…The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason…” 1 Tim. 1:1,13b-16. Let us call this the “Chosen Foundation.”

A fourth foundation of our faith could be our need to live in victory beneath a victorious king – “And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest.” Mk. 11:9-10 Let us call this the “Victory Foundation.”

A fifth foundation of our faith could be our understanding of Christ’s work on the cross, His payment for us which we could not make so that we could stand in the throne room of God cleansed of sin. Let us call this the “Sin Foundation.”

A sixth foundation of our faith (and there may be more) is contained in the last sentence of our reading today from Paul’s letter to Timothy: “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” 1 Tim. 1:17. Let us call this the “Sovereign Foundation.”

In summary, the six potential concepts of the foundation of our faith which are struggling for prime position are the “Avoidance Foundation,” the “Self Foundation,” the “Chosen Foundation,” the “Victory Foundation,” the “Sin Foundation,” and the “Sovereign Foundation.”

If we re-order these, we realize that three of these proceed from man – what man wants and what man would choose. These are the “Avoidance Foundation,” the “Self Foundation,” and the “Victory Foundation.” “I” can avoid God’s wrath by choosing Christ, “I” can achieve God’s pleasure by obedience to the rules and by good works, “I” can obtain victory in life by following the King, the Creator, and appropriating His powers on earth.

The other three foundations begin with God – the “Sin Foundation,” the Chosen Foundation,” and the “I Am Foundation.” “God” solves the sin problem by dying for us, “God” chooses us for salvation, choosing those upon whom He will have mercy, “God” is Himself, the only God, most high.

I have become convinced through my walk that, although at different times in my life I believed that each of the described foundations was in fact the foundation of my faith, the only true foundation which makes any sense is the Sovereign Foundation – He is God and I am not; He rules and I do not. All of the other foundations are laid on top of this one.

If God were not sovereign, then why would there be sin? If God were not sovereign, then why would it be necessary that the saved were chosen? If God were not sovereign, then why would we be afraid of His wrath? If God were not sovereign, then why would His rules be something that we would measure our lives against and why would there be standards for “good” works? If God were not sovereign, then where is the victory?

God’s sovereignty is the key – it is the foundation upon which we rest our faith.

To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Learning

February 13, 2015


Readings for Friday, February 13, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 61:1-9; 2 Tim. 3:1-17; Mark 10:32-45; Psalms 88,91,92

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It is Friday the 13th and according to superstitious people, not a good day.

And yet in today’s readings there is a whole lot of “learning” to do which, quite frankly, I cannot even begin to cover even with broad strokes. I urge you, therefore, particularly today to read the readings. In Isaiah, we read of the Messiah beginning with these words – “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim liberty to the captives…” Isa. 61:1 In 2 Timothy we read about the comparison of God’s kingdom to the world’s, and in Mark we read Jesus’ statements about his death and resurrection and his urging to His disciples to be servants and slaves of all. Each one in itself a powerful reading and each one in itself thought-provoking, about where we are and what we are doing and whose we are.

But in all this beauty, vision, and truth something popped to the surface – “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty…Avoid such people. For among them are those … always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth….so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.” 2 Tim. 3:1,5b,7-8.

“Always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth…”

How that describes many people! How many people do we know who read magazines, newspapers, and books voraciously, who embrace all of the arts and the sciences, who have finely honed their rational thought, who can talk until the cows come home about politics, economics, the physical and biological sciences, mathematics, history, and other “learning” and yet have never been able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth?

How many people do we know that fill their entire day filling their brain with streaming data from the Internet, from their text messages, from their “selfie” photographs, from Facebook, Twitter, and a stream of consciousness wrapped up in miniature sound bites, having the appearance of information, analysis, and wisdom … and containing no wisdom, no information, no analysis, and little if any thought. This is today’s “learning.” Compared to yesterday’s form of “learning,” today’s may seem empty and vacuous, but Paul in writing to Timothy is telling him that the same is true of traditional “learning.” Thoughtfulness and the highest form of rationality does not equate to the truth, and we may well fill our heads with worldly wisdom and yet totally miss the point; we may describe all the trees is exquisite detail and miss the forest; we may believe that the room we live in is all there is, and miss the door to the outside, where there is much, much more than we will ever comprehend in ourselves.

Maybe if our learning is defective it is because our sources are defective. If we learn in short bursts of words delivered to our computer screen, do we believe, really believe, that the source is reliable? If we learn from ourselves, is the source reliable? If we learn through what others have observed, is the source reliable? If our “science” involves nothing but us – our observations, our calculations, our logic, our thoughts, our reasoning, our analysis, our conclusions – is the source reliable?

Our reading today from 2 Timothy, while telling us to avoid people who are “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth,” also tells us a good source to go to, to help us arrive at a knowledge of the truth. It is God’s Word, Scripture. “But as for you, continue … with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” 2 Tim. 3:14-17

There are those who would say that Paul’s words to Timothy are a Friday the 13th trick. They would say that those who believe Paul, who believe that Scripture is God’s revealed Word, is a chasing after learning leading down a blind alley, never arriving at a knowledge of the truth.

Maybe this is where faith comes in, but maybe to evaluate this challenge we can also consider outcomes. While man’s learning has brought us better and better tools, what has it done to solve our “sin” nature? It is our learning from God’s Word which leads us to Christ and to that solution.

The real Friday the 13th trick is contained in man’s “learning,” that somehow the scientific description of the heavens someone leads us any closer to heaven, that somehow the rational creation of a new tool (the Internet comes to mind) somehow leads us to more righteous use of that tool, that somehow a better understanding of the “Id” and the “Ego” leads us to release from the imprisonment to our own lusts, our own sinfulness.

It is true that there is much learning which does not lead to the truth, but there is some learning which does. The question is where does this “learning” come from. If it comes from man, “beware!” If it comes from God, “embrace!”

Just that simple, and just that hard.

Today, are you “learning?” If so, what? If so, from where? If so, from whom?

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Entangle

February 11, 2015


Readings for Wednesday, February 11, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 59:15b-21; 2 Tim. 1:15-2:13; Mark 10:1-16; Psalms 81,82,119:97-120

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In today’s reading from Paul’s second letter to Timothy, God through Paul says this: “”Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete … It is the hard-working farmer ….” 2 Tim. 2:3-6

Reading this got me to thinking about the various roles we have. Reading this in plain language, as soldiers of Jesus Christ, enlisted by God, we ought to please Him, which means not engaging in civilian pursuits.

As many of you know, I am right now heavily involved in politics. There is not much more of a civilian pursuit than politics, I promise you. As a Christian, therefore, should I be engaged in politics? It would appear that this verse would say “no.”

And this is how great mistakes are made in our study of the Bible. What was the mistake I made above? God through Paul uses the word “entangle,” (“No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits…”); I transformed the word “entangle” into “engage” (…”which means not engaging in civilian pursuits”). There is a huge difference between the words “entangle” and “engage.”

Indeed, as soldiers of Christ we are commanded to engage the world, the civilian sphere, the places and people outside the army of God. We are commanded to preach to the world, we are commanded to live in the world as ambassadors of Christ, and we are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves.

But we do not, as Christians, need to become entangled in the world, letting the world dictate how we behave, what we say, who we follow, whom we love.

There are many ways to get entangled in the world. One way is education … when we are educated by the world’s systems of thought, we are becoming entangled intellectually in an ungodly way of thinking. When we go to our job, we become entangled in the idiosyncrasies of our bosses and co-workers, we become bound up with the employer’s policies and procedures, and we become enmeshed in our customers’ or clients’ needs and wants. When we pay our bills, we are entangled in a web of expense and debt, much of our own doing, but which is not Christian. When we go to parties, we become entangled in our families’ and friends’ lives, responding to them in worldly ways rather than godly ways.

One way to become entangled in the world is to let our prejudices, our stone hearts, our desires, our selfishness, be used as weapons against God’s Word. For example, where did the “slip” from “entangle” to “engage” occur. In my brain. Why? I don’t know. But the entanglement with the world is so subtle, so powerful, and so enslaving that we must constantly be in God’s Word, letting it dictate to us God’s meaning and not us dictating to it our meaning.

How do we know how well we are entangled in the world? The test is built into our reading today – how much are you suffering? When we are floating down the river of life with the flow, we are deeply entangled in the water because we are driven entirely by the direction of the flow. When we are no longer entangled, when we take up the oars of life to pull the boat to the other shore or to turn around and go back upstream, we are no longer entangled with the river … we are independent of it – but, man! How sore will we be from the effort? How much will the river punish us for swimming to safe shore or paddling upstream?

It is easy to become entangled in the world; after all, we live in it. But that is no excuse. If we are a good soldier for Christ, we will not become entangled in the world because we have a job to do and entanglement in civilian affairs slows us down or defeats us.

How do we avoid becoming entangled in worldly webs?

I know of only one way, because it is something we cannot do on our own. Come Holy Spirit, show me God’s Word in its true reading and meaning and sink it deep into my character. Come Holy Spirit and show me the soldier’s path laid out by my King. Come Holy Spirit and strengthen me for the journey. Come Holy Spirit and sustain me in the sufferings to come. Come Holy Spirit and supply what I lack. Come Holy Spirit and make me like a Christian Teflon, where I cannot become entangled in the world because the world slides right off. Come Holy Spirit. Come Holy Spirit.

“O Israel, if you would but listen to Me! There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god. I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.” Ps. 68:8b-10 My summary – “O My people, if you would but listen to Me! There shall be no entanglement with strange gods and you will not bow down to the world. I am the Lord your God, who delivered you from slavery of sin by my sovereign act, by the death and resurrection of My Son. Open your mouth wide in anticipation of the good things I will give you, and I will fill it.”

Come Holy Spirit.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Motions

February 9, 2015


Readings for Monday, February 9, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 58:1-12; Gal. 6:11-18; Mark 9:30-41; Psalms 77,79,80

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We have a saying, “He is going through the motions.” We know what that means. Who “he” is, he is merely following a pattern of life laid out for him; he is not trying, he is not committed to either the task or the end of the task. He is living life shallowly. He likes like he is doing right, but he is not doing right. His heart is not in what he is doing. He is acting to please whoever he feels like needs pleasing. The show is there, but none of the substance.

In our religious activities, there is much which passes for true commitment but which is only show. There are many religious motions we go through, but our heart is not in them. We make much of prayer but we do not pray. We make much of worship and attendance at worship but we do not worship. We make much of trust and faith, but we have little of either.

In today’s readings, we see a lot about going through the motions and discover that God is not impressed. For example, in Isaiah God addresses fasting. “Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure…Fasting like yours will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? … Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house…?” Isa. 58:3b-7 We can deny ourselves by going through the motions of not eating, hoarding our food until the fast is broken and we can feast. Or we can fast for real, giving away our food so that there is no feast of food, but poverty of food. In the first instance, we have set the conditions for poverty of the spirit because all we have done is delay gratification, not denied it. In the second, although there may be poverty of food there is richness of soul, because we have given away that which we have in reliance upon God’s replenishment. The motions look like the real thing but they are not the real thing. The real thing may not look like much but it has high payoffs.

Similarly, in Mark the disciples are going through the motions of being disciples but are not engaged in the reality of being disciples. The disciples are hanging out around Jesus but they are not engaged with Him. For example, Jesus tells them plainly that He will be killed and will rise again on the third day. However, Mark reports that the disciples “did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask Him.” If the disciples were engaged with Jesus and struggling against their own limits to be with Him, talk with Him, and love Him, they why did they not ask Him what He meant? They did plenty of other times. What about this mystery caused them to go through the motions of discipleship but not the reality? Maybe it was because of the topic – not kingship but death, not the presence of the kingdom but an end to a kingdom, not things that “tickled the ears” but things which were agonizing. We go through the motions when we are not interested in being engaged, either because we are afraid of the outcome or because we are bored or because we just don’t care. Perhaps all this talk about death and resurrection was just too boorish for the disciples, particularly as they selfishly discussed their places in the kingdom and jealously considered others who were preaching in Jesus’ name but who were not listed in their little band of brothers.

As we go through this week, we will have many opportunities to display our Christianity, either in our silent prayer or study, our participation in group discussion, or our opportunity to just talk about church. Perhaps we will even have the opportunity to go to church for some reason during the week. When we do these things, will we just be going through the motions or will we be engaged, enlivened and empowered by our walk with God.

Too often we are going through the motions. Why? To please ourselves? – we typically do not like exercise and we typically do not engage the spiritual disciplines of prayer, study, fasting, meditation, or worship with any particularly zeal. To please others? – do we really find it necessary to act “Christian” to please our friends or family, or do we just think we do? To please God? – God is not pleased with fake prayers, study, fasting, meditation, or worship.

So why go through the motions at all? One might be inclined to say at this point “we don’t” and then quit. However, there is an answer. As we go through the motions in prayer, if we are trying to reach out to God about ourselves, our world, our needs, our hopes, and each other, is the “motion” truly empty? As we take the time to go through a fast, even when we hoard our bread for ourselves, and we are doing the fast because God calls us to lay aside our wealth every so often to focus on Him, is the “motion” truly empty? As we attend church because we “ought to” and not because we “want to,” is the tiniest little piece of worship which ekes through our self-centeredness wasted?

God has redeemed us unto salvation by His sovereign grace? Do we really think He cannot redeem our motions toward Him, no matter how weak or self-centered? Is His hand so short that He cannot take the mustard seed of faith and turn it into a tree of blessing in time?

See, there is a reality to all this which transcends our human understanding. We never should just “go through the motions” but we should also never stop going through the motions.

Perhaps the difference between the two statements is the word “just.” If we are just going through the motions, we are not reaching out to God. But if we intend to reach out to God, then our feeble motions are an offering and a fragrant one at that.

So why are we going through the motions? To please others? To please ourselves? Or to please God? The motions look the same to the observer, but not to God.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Checklist

February 6, 2015


Readings for Friday, February 6, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 56:1-8; Gal. 5:16-24; Mark 9:2-13; Psalms 69,73

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At the end of any effort there should be an evaluation, a self-testing about what things could have been done better, were done well, or were not done at all. To this evaluation, there is a checklist of expected outcomes or results or a checklist of particular actions.

Galatians today gives us a checklist and we should take the time on Friday to evaluate our week. I propose using God’s checklist to see where we are.

Which of these things have we done this week?

_____ engaged in thought or action involving sexual immorality

_____ been impure in thought or deed

_____ been sensual or appreciated the sensuality in others

_____ practiced idolatry, worshiping the job, money, things, people, or anything other than God

_____ committed sorcery, the summoning of help by magic or incantation or special words

_____ had enmity between yourself and your spouse, your children, your neighbors, your fellow workers, or anyone else

_____ was involved in strife of your own doing, either by initiating or responding (pouring fuel on the flame)

_____ was jealous of what someone else had or had accomplished

_____ engaged in fits of anger at yourself, at others, at things, at circumstances, at events

_____ engaged in rivalries to prove that you were the best at something

_____ engaged in dissensions, disagreements, or arguments

_____ did or said things which divide people rather than bring them together

_____ envied someone else or something else

_____ became drunk, intoxicated, or drugged

_____ engaged in orgies (normally of sex, but perhaps of eating or other “over the top” indulgences)

Do you have any checkmarks on your checklist. I daresay everyone does.

What was this checklist? This checklist belongs to those who act according to the flesh, according to themselves and the world, and not according to the Holy Spirit. This checklist is the list of things provided by Paul in today’s readings which is what we can expect if we are not saved by grace and empowered on a minute-by-minute basis by the Holy Spirit. This checklist is who we are when we are walking according to the human spirit instead of the divine spirit.

So it is true that you can say, if you have any checkmarks above, that you are “only human.”

But we are called as Christians to be more than “only” human. Once Christ is in us and we are in Him we are a new creation and no longer “only” human.

We are called to look at ourselves every Friday, to look at the above checklist, and to find nothing listed which we can say we did this last week.

So unlike the kind of checklist where, if you want a good evaluation, you have everything checked off, this is the kind of checklist where you will want, as a child of God, to have nothing checked off.

Will we ever get there this side of heaven? Probably not, but living in the power of the Holy Spirit, living according to God’s commands, living in obedience to Him, we will get better and better and better … and there will be fewer checkmarks on our human fleshly checklist. Why, because with man nothing is possible but with God, everything is.

Thanks be to God. Come Holy Spirit.

__________

© 2015 GBF

Bread – Crumbs

February 2, 2015


Readings for Monday, February 2, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Isa. 51:17-23; Gal. 4:1-11; Mark 7:24-37; Psalms 56,57,58,64,65

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There once was a coffeecake. And it was delicious. And then someone ate it, someone who came before. And the plate was empty except for a few crumbs from the edges. The somewhat burnt, sugary crumbs of edge which taste really good. And you took your finger, wet it so the crumbs would stick, circled the plate with your finger so that no crumb would go to waste, and tasted the crumbs.

Who reading this would refuse the crumbs left on the plate from the coffeecake, although the substance of the coffeecake is gone? We all know the story of the coffeecake, because once it is eaten, the crumbs are left and many people, perhaps even you, consider the crumbs the best part. They are the pieces with crystalline sugar, unburdened by the cake part. They are the thing which crunch rather than mash. Whereas most people will ignore the crumbs, you who are a connoisseur of coffeecake know that the best parts, the crumbs, have been left behind by those who do not know that the best part is what is left over.

In today’s newspaper, there was an article about the fact that our country has become so rich, that we forget that, relatively recently, even if you had a house you were still poor. More than one pair of shoes was a luxury. Your own telephone line was almost unheard of. We ate everything on our plate because to not do so would cause us to go hungry. Clothes were mended because they had to last. Going out to dinner to a restaurant was something that you did extremely rarely, because who had the money to waste on such frivolity?

When you are filled up with coffeecake, you tend to leave the crumbs. When you have nothing, the crumbs not only look tasty, they are tasty. The person who eats the entire coffeecake is rarely grateful for any portion of it, except maybe to say “thank you” to the cook, if you remember. On the other hand, the person who is left the crumbs is thankful for even that.

In today’s reading from Mark’s gospel, a Gentile has asked Jesus to heal her little daughter from an unclean spirit. Jesus responds, “Let the children [Jews] be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Mk. 7:27 Rather than take on an air of righteous indignation at being called a “dog” or not being counted as one of the children, the Gentile woman is more focused on the blessings of the crumbs than on the feast of the cake and says to Him “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Mk. 7:28. Jesus responds to this simple act of faith and thanksgiving with a message – “…go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” Mk. 7:29

There are many people today who are greatly blessed and who may not appear, from our vantage point, to deserve it. They may be crooks, vagabonds, hard cases, tough negotiators, fighters, and just plain difficult. From our perspective, these people eat the cake and they may be (or only appear to be) favored by God.

The truth is that we may be in position to only get the crumbs of life. We may be the dogs of society, the rejected, the dejected, the lost, the lonely, the suffering, the poor. We may feel put upon and perhaps we actually are.

Perhaps we are in a position where all we will see are the crumbs of life. And, yet, if from a heart of poverty we see the blessings of the crumbs, isn’t each one of them tasty? Isn’t each crumb fallen from the plate of another a piece of gold in our lives if we but have the heart of gratefulness, of gratitude, of love, and of honesty to accept it? Isn’t it really true that, given our rebellious spirit and our fundamental sinfulness and selfishness, that we are fortunate indeed to even get the crumbs?

And yet, ask yourself something from our lesson today …. The woman’s daughter was healed – is this a crumb?

We have been saved by grace. Is this a crumb? We have been blessed with this new day, full of opportunity and life, if we will but seize it. Is this a crumb? We have eaten. Is this a crumb?

Compared to what many people have in this world, what we have eaten today is a crumb. Our opportunities which are realistically open to us may appear to be even less than a crumb.

But are they crumbs or are they great gifts, great blessings?

Or are they both?

We have a choice today. That choice is to take the crumbs of life which have been given to us and to see them in one of two ways. The first way is to see them for what they really are – leftovers — not even first fruits, but leftovers. The second way is to see them for what they really are – blessings — more than first fruits because they are made by God and not by man.

Your choice today is to see the world from either what you don’t have or from what you do have. God’s choice, His gift, is to give to us anyway, in spite of our attitude about it.

Which choice do you think honors God? Which choice do you think brings God glory? It is one thing to make a tasty cake – it is another to take the leftovers and turn them into the best parts.

God is in the business of giving the dogs good things. After all, he took us in our filthy rags as sinners and gave us adoption as sons. If that isn’t taking a crumb and turning it into something special, I don’t know what is. Thanks be to God!

__________

© 2015 GBF

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